The Galapagos Islands is a destination unlike any other. It is also a destination with a huge variety of travel options, which can make choosing a right trip an overwhelming process. If you are making plans to visit the Galapagos and don’t know where to start, or if you would like an overview of your options, this information will be helpful. You can also call and speak to one of our Galapagos experts anytime.
When is the best time to go? And how far in advance do I need to plan?
The Galapagos Islands truly are a year-round destination. There are two seasons caused by different prevailing ocean currents, but the archipelago is a pleasant place to visit during any month. The warmer, wetter season runs from December to May, and a cooler, dryer season, caused by the cold Humboldt current, takes over from June – November. Even in the wet season, rain is generally confined to brief afternoon showers and shouldn’t disrupt your trip. Waters tend to be calmer during the warmer months of December through May.
There is no defined high and low season for the quality of wildlife viewing in the Galapagos. The only exception would be if you have a very specific species in mind. For example, the Waved Albatross are only found on Espanola Island from April to October. Most species, such as penguins, sea lions, iguanas, tortoises, and boobies, are prevalent in the islands throughout the year. Christmas, New Year’s, spring break and the summer months are the busiest times in the Galapagos simply because that is when most people are free to travel. If you are able to visit in January, February or September through early December, you will find a greater selection of available trip options. That being said, the Galapagos is relatively busy year-round. It is best to plan at least six to nine months in advance throughout the year, and a year or more for anything in Christmas or May through July.
By land or by sea?
There are two ways to experience the Galapagos. You can choose a land-based tour, where your exploration is based from hotels on some or all of the four inhabited islands, or a live-aboard cruise. Both options allow for great wildlife viewing opportunities on land and underwater, and a chance to see a variety of landscapes. Live-aboard cruises are a great choice for those who love to be on the water and are interested in reaching the uninhabited outlying islands. Land-based tours are more active with opportunities for biking and kayaking as well as longer hikes than you will take on a cruise. Land tours also give you the opportunities to spend evenings and free time enjoying the island towns.
Each of these types of tours appeal to different travelers and neither option is better than the other. We encourage our travelers to pick a tour that is most in-line with their personal travel style. You will have an incredible Galapagos experience no matter which way you choose.
By land! Where do I stay?
For most of our land tours, including our popular Galapagos Multisport trips, accommodations are in three star hotels. These hotels are clean and comfortable with all the basic necessities. There are a few hotel upgrade options on each island, though, if you are looking for something more high-end, Galapagos Safari Camp is a luxury tented resort experience with private excursions on Santa Cruz and day trips to nearby uninhabited islands. The camp offers a level of luxury and service that can’t be found in any other accommodations on the islands.
We have pictures and information on all of the hotels used for our trips on our website. If you prefer a land-based tour and are concerned about the accommodations, please contact us for further details on your hotel options.
By sea! Which boat should I choose?
If you choose to explore the islands via live-aboard cruise, we offer four different categories of vessels. Tourist superior, first class and luxury boats are all smaller vessels, which carry an average of 16 passengers. Tourist superior boats are the most basic boats and are comparable to a three-star hotel. The cabins are small, but clean and comfortable. You will have a good English-speaking guide, but he or she may not be as experienced as some of those on the other vessels we offer. First class cruises are similar to four-star hotels. They have larger cabins, better food and more experienced guides. Luxury vessels, which are comparable to a five-star hotel, have all of the amenities of a first class cruise, including the same top-level guides that you will find on first class yacts. Added benefits of luxury boats include gourmet dining, even larger cabins, high-end toiletries and, on some boats, private balconies. Finally, cruise ships carry from 40-100 passengers and offer a more traditional cruising experience. These vessels have extra services like medical staff, gift shops, or occasionally small gyms.
Besides the different level of accommodations, some people are interested in specific styles of ships, such as sailboats or catamarans. We offer several sailing vessels. These boats are not able to sail the entire voyage, as they must adhere to the Galapagos National Park schedule, but they will raise their sails when possible. Catamarans have become very popular in the Galapagos. These boats tend to be more spacious than a single-hulled yacht and can be steadier in the water. However, because so many people are interested in catamarans, they sell out quickly.
Important note: When planning a trip to the Galapagos – availability is the most important factor. Availability is very limited and always changing. If you have your mind set on one particular yacht, you must be flexible to travel during dates when that yacht is available. If you have a very narrow set of travel dates, you must be flexible about what vessels you are willing to consider.
Lastly, it is important to consider that there is not one vessel that is better than all the rest. They all follow the same strict rules set forth by the national park authorities. The onboard experiences vary from yacht to yacht, but you have the same wildlife viewing opportunities regardles of which vessel you select.
How much time do I need?
Due to the Galapagos Islands’ remote location, the costs involved and that fact that most people only go to there once in their lives, we recommend our travelers plan for at least five days in the islands with eight days being ideal. Galapagos cruises run from four to eight days in length with extended nine to 15-day cruises available for those who are interested in seeing the entire archipelago. Land tours range from five to eight days with plenty of extension options. Your budget and how many islands you would like to see will both be factors in choosing the length of your trip.
You will need to arrive in Ecuador at least one day before you head to the Galapagos for any trip. All flights to the islands leave from Quito and Guayaquil early in the morning. For this reason, both land and cruise tours include one night in Quito or Guayaquil before and after the Galapagos. This means a five-day Galapagos cruise will be a seven-day trip and an eight-day Galapagos land tour would be a 10-day trip altogether.
How do I choose my itinerary? Which islands are on the must-see list?
The Galapagos is an incredible destination, and no matter what islands or visitor sites you end up seeing, you will be impressed by the abundance of wildlife and unique landscapes. In general, we encourage people not to worry about the specific islands they are visiting unless they have a certain species that they must see, such as penguins or albatross. However, we realize that this is a once-in-a-lifetime trip, so if you want to understand more specifics about the island itineraries, please keep reading!
Here is how the cruise itineraries work in the Galapagos: All Galapagos vessels cruise the islands on a 15-day cycle with exact itineraries mandated by the Galapagos National Park. This means that all of the cruises go to all of the island visitor sites throughout this cycle. The only difference between the cruises is how the islands are broken up into shorter itineraries. Because each eight-day cruise visits roughly half of the visitor sites, all of these itineraries are fantastic and will allow you to see a variety of wildlife and landscapes. Often your choice is between the east and west side of the archipelago, and neither side is definitively better than the other. Some four and five-day cruise itineraries are arguably better than others as these do not visit as many islands. Our Galapagos experts will be happy to refer you to their favorite island itineraries if this is a concern for you.
On land tours, you will spend the night on up to three inhabited islands of the Galapagos: Santa Cruz, San Cristobal, and Isabela. Depending on your itinerary, it may include day trips to nearby uninhabited islands. Although you may not visit as many different islands as you would on a cruise, you will explore these islands in greater depth and have the opportunity to visit some sites that cruise passengers do not have the opportunity to see. These islands are also home to some of our team’s favorite visitor sites.
Like we said, you won’t be disappointed by any of the Galapagos Islands, but if you would like to know some of our favorite spots, feel free to call or email us. We’d be happy to help you find the best possible itinerary based on your interests.
How much is this all going to cost?
Planning your trip will be much easier if you have a rough idea of your trip budget when you begin. There are so many options in the Galapagos and a budget can help us to focus on the types and lengths of trips that will work for you. Below you will find a quick summary of the starting prices for the different levels of cruises. It is important to note that these are ballpark costs. Trip costs vary significantly from yacht to yacht and many vessels have upgraded cabin options which increase the overall costs.
Five-day cruises on a tourist superior vessel start around $2,595 per person and increase from there. This rate includes all airport transfers and two hotel nights. Flights to the Galapagos, which are about $560 per person, are an additional cost. Five-day cruises on first class vessels range from about $2,700 to $3,400 without Galapagos flights. Eight-day cruises on these vessels start around $3700 without flights. Our most popular luxury vessels are around $4,200-$4,600 for a five-day cruise or $6,300 and up for an eight-day cruise without Galapagos flights. The pricing on the larger 100 passenger cruise ships vary but are similar to first class or luxury cruises.
Land tours vary in price, but are aligned with mid-range cruise options. Generally speaking, Galapagos tour prices remain the same year-round.
Will I get a deal if I wait to the last minute?
The Galapagos is an extremely popular destination and travel to the Galapagos Islands increases every year. It is a very regulated destination for environmental and conservation reasons, so growth is not unlimited. For these reasons, Galapagos trips are sell out many months in advance during popular travel times, and will continue to do so in the foreseeable future. If you want to travel over the holidays, do not expect last-minute deals or discounts as every trip sells out months in advance. Last minute spaces due to cancellations over the holidays are not discounted because the cabins are too easily re-sold. Discounts will also be extremely rare during the summer months or any time that may align with school breaks. If you are willing to travel in the slower months, such as January, October, November or early December, it maybe be possible to find discounts as the departures approach. These deals are usually best for people who are flexible with their plans as deals will only be on specific dates for specific vessels. It is also good to keep in mind that while waiting until the last minute may lower your cruise costs, international flights will likely be more expensive to book.
Bottom line: Last minute deals exist, but you must be completely flexible to travel on any date and be willing to travel on any type of yacht and itinerary. If you have certain expectations that must be met, then you need to book in advance in order to travel on your ideal tour.